Japanese drinks group Sapporo Holdings has rejected claims by Steel Partners Japan Strategic Fund that it was unwilling to enter into discusssion over the sale of a 33% stake.

Steel Partners last week pulled out of its attempt to acquire a third of Sapporo for JPY875 per share, accusing Sapporo's board of  being unwilling to discuss or engage with its board.

Sapporo this week hit back, however, claiming that it has been in "continuous discussions" with Steel Partners and has "made efforts to explore solutions that would satisfy Steel Partners and other shareholders of the company, as well as othe stakeholders".

Sapporo said it would take "appropriate actions" to protect shareholder interests. Steel Partners already owns a 19% share in Sapporo.

Rubbishing Steel Partners' claim that Sapporo's business was "ever-worsening", the firm published 2008 results showing that net profit rose to JPY7.6bn for the year, up from 5.JPY5bn in 2007.

Net sales fell, however, to JPY414.5bn in 2008, down from JPY449bn in 2007 and also lower than a total of JPY435bn in 2006. Sapporo blamed the slip on lower-than-expected sales of new brands, as well as the timing of price increases.

It added that it has "planned for decreased net income in 2009".

Steel Partners had previously wanted to raise its stake in Sapporo to 66%, but halved this after negotiations failed to get off the ground. Last July, it described the process as "tedious and expensive".